"I Am Having A Sad Evening"  

Business Girls - Sports
Airport - Like Honey
Max Léon - Lovekevins
Highschool Drama - Montt Mardié
Khreis (Original Mix) - My Enemy
"I Am Having A Sad Evening" - Paddington DC
Positive Laser - Ninja High School
Avoid The Docks - Hank
The Camera Loves Me - Would Be Goods
Talking Backwards - Tender Trap
Graduation Day - Math And Physics Club Breakfast In NYC - Oppenheimer
Yo Zushi's Christmas Story - Yo Zushi
Children Of My Mind - Denny Doherty
White Horses - Claudine Longet
You've Come This Way Before - Nancy Priddy
Love - Chesapeake Juke Box Band
A Summer Song - Chad And Jeremy
Can I Stay With You - Nick Garrie
It's All A Dream - The Arrogants
Jens Lekman's Farewell Song To Rocky Dennis - Jens Lekman


Sometimes I think there can be no finer sound than that of sweet Swedish Pop. Certainly the six cuts that kick off proceedings on this month’s mix tape are all guaranteed to bring a smile to my chapped lips in these days and too long nights of cold and desperation. Le Sport, who open things up with the magnificent hyper-electro of ‘Business Girls’, were once called Eurosport before, one assumes, some law wielding types waded in with cease and desist orders. Eurosport had one single on the small but perfectly formed ‘songs I wish I had written’ label - the glorious ‘Your Brother Is My Only Hope’ - and this new single (a CDR release through the same label) is the jaunty sound of kids who grew up loving the sound of Baxendale loving the sound of dance music. Infectious, ridiculously danceable and shot through with sparkling sequins shimmering in the cities’ moonlit glow. Like Honey, meanwhile, play the airplane guitars and candy coated vocals card on ‘Airport’, the title track from their four song EP on the Hybris label. It’s fine, fine material, taking off for the stratosphere and leaving a vapour trail of melodic cacophony in its wake. The Lovekevins on the other hand favour street corner whistling and scratchy toy pianos over Mo Tucker drums on the title track of their four track ‘Max Leon’ offering. Another brilliant release by Songs I Wish I Had Written, this one comes in a fold-out paper sleeve with a fetching black and pink colour scheme that picks up where their previous 7” left off. It’s good to see bands make such an effort with their aesthetic. Even better when the sonic matches the visual, and really Lovekevins are a band making clever connections to the world of ‘80s indiepop and disco whilst layering on their own unique Swedish Pop slant. They are certainly one of the finest finds of the year.

Then there is Montt Mardie with the hysterical ‘Highschool Drama’ single on Hybris. This is a fabulously tinny teen-pop soap opera that skips from falsetto to hilarious faux-phonecall spoken word over a pitter patter drum beat and 50p synth sound. Like Bronksi Beat on a mid-80s Grange Hill set. Magic.

And what of My Enemy? Their ‘Khreis’ cut seems to crop up on at least two different releases that have dropped into my hands recently, once on the four track Roo EP on Yellow Mica Recordings, and again on the six track ‘Khreis’ on Vapin And Godis. The V&P release indeed features two different mixes of the title track, both of which are vital. Now I don’t know very much about Gothenburg’s My Enemy apart from the fact that they thrill me with their sparse electro-pop dance music. They sound like purple spirals twirling inside papercuts; like eating marshmallows in the dark whilst snow piles up on the window panes; awkward and in love with the possibilities of awkward love. It makes me wonder why there are not more UK bands wanting to sound this perfectly difficult and unafraid of the magic of Pop? Maybe they are scared the NME wouldn’t like it. Oh well.

Which leads me finally to Paddington DC, and the wonderfully titled “I Am Having A Sad Evening” track from their The Sun Is Down And The Sky Is Grey set on Lowlife. I first became aware of this band when a copy of their eight minute ‘Little Variations’ landed in my lap all the way back in April of 2003. Then a year later the monumental 18 minute ‘Put Things’ appeared in my post box, and I swear I couldn’t shift that from the stereo for ages. Like some wayward sibling of Flowered Up’s classic ‘Weekender’, ‘Put Things’ in fact opens this set, but it’s this nearly eight minute gem that has most captured my imagination this time. Largely instrumental, but punctuated with a breath of disembodied vocals that sound as though they are being buried alive, this is hypnotic, mesmerising, and eerily reminiscent of The Wake at their most pared back and fragile. Utterly compelling and haunting.
From Sweden to Canada then, and two new releases on the always challenging and esoteric Blocks Recording Club of Toronto. First off there’s the ‘Positive Laser’ cut from Ninja High School’s Young Adults Against Suicide set. Ninja High School make terrific shouty punk Hip Hop: think Beastie Boys clashing with Bikini Kill on a stage shared with Help She Can’t Swim, or a razor edged Go! Team dressed in situationist shirts and you are getting close. This kind of sparse upbeat racket still has the power to move me, for which I am immensely grateful. Ditto the unhinged psychopsych of Hank, from whose Ackrill/venning ’91 album the ‘Avoid The Docks’ track comes. Mad distorted organ overloads atop a tinny drum beat whilst someone hollers about sailors. You probably wouldn’t want them in your classroom, but they sure sound fucked, furious and fantastic.

Taking a step back in time now with the always excellent Would Be Goods and their classic single 'The Camera Loves Me', which comes from the Too Good To Be True ­ The Very Best of El Records 1985-1988 collection. Now I must admit that at the time I never really got the appeal of El. At the time it seemed to me to be too arch for its own good. Everyone seemed too well dressed and artfully pretentious, and anyway, didn’t they have records of football songs? To be fair though, the football songs might have been later, and on reflection the pretentiousness and good grooming look really rather grand. Certainly the songs on this collection are spot on, capturing as they do a kind of intellectual literary Pop that’s as much informed by Rococo and The Rennaisance as by Warhol and Lichtenstein paintings. Tracks by the likes of Momus, Louis Philippe, The King Of Luxembourg and of course Vic Godard are fired through with the spirit of Radio 2 MOR and sound both wonderfully strange and strangely, dangerously straight. Like the man said, you don’t have to be weird to be wired.

Of course the Would Be Goods have made a comeback of sorts in recent years with excellent records for the Matinee and Fortuna Pop stables in the US and UK respectively. Also on Matinee is the new EP release by Tender Trap, featuring the legendary indiepop queen Amelia Fletcher (formerly of Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, Marine Research etc…). ‘Talking Backwards’ is the lead off track on their Language Lessons four tracker, and is everything you would expect and more.
Math and Physics Club also turn out with a four track EP for Matinee. Movie Ending Romance is full of sweet soft guitar sounds with a more than faint Smiths infatuation; never more clearly defined than on the rather lovely ‘Graduation Day’. The sound of summer afternoons skipping school and lazing out on the hill by the castle, luxuriating in the thrill of the dream of never to be kissed lips. In other words, the sound of tremulous heartbeats leaping and dropping in time to the slipslide of lost weekends. Pretty and wonderful.

Speaking of pretty wonderful, I can think of no other way to describe Oppenheimer’s dizzyingly good ‘Breakfast in NYC’. This crops up in the midst of the Public Service Broadcast #7 collection from the Smalltown America gang, and is in itself reason for stumping up the entry fee. It‘s been playing on endless repeat in the kitchen, me dreaming of New York diners, syrup soaked French Toast and mugs of black coffee (ah, if only I were still able to deal with the caffeine rush). With its candy coated synths and electro treated vocals beamed in from a parallel universe filled with characters scooped out of James Kochalka’s Cute Manifesto, this is the sound of spangly, Freezepopping bliss.

Okay, so it wouldn’t be quite right if I were to make a December listening mix without slipping in one Christmas song, so here it is, courtesy of former Great Days of Sail leader Yo Zushi, from his forthcoming Songs From A Dazzling Drift album (we’ll conveniently ignore the fact that it’s not due for release ­ on the Pointy label ­ until the start of February 2006). With a title lifted from a Robert Browning poem, the album is a classy collection of intelligently literate folk songs that beat with a left of centre Pop heartbeat. Understated, unaffected yet charmingly affecting, the album ought to set Yo Zushi up as one of the key singer/songwriter talents of 2006. I’m already eager to hear more.
Now you likely know how highly I think of the Rev-Ola label, and it’s probably no surprise to hear me say that their recent set of releases is as good as any they have put out in their history. But honestly, add into the equation a couple of ace reissues by the newly resurrected El label, and you have a sequence of salvaged sounds that I swear would make any mix quiver with delight. First off there is the terrific ‘Children Of My Mind’ from the Waiting For A Song set by Denny Doherty. Now Denny was once a key member of The Mamas And The Papas (but then who of that sublime team wasn’t a key member?) and Michelle Phillips once pronounced him to be “the psychedelic Frank Sinatra” which is pretty funny, but then again, why not? Certainly on this set of orchestrated soft psych it’s not such a ridiculous claim. Add backing vocals from Michelle and Cass Elliot (her final recording prior to her July 1974 death) and this is about as close to a 1970s Mamas and Papas reunion as you could ever get. And if THAT’S note enough to have you frothing at the mouth with rabid anticipation, then frankly you have a heart filled with brown gloop.

Rev-Ola meanwhile step up to the plate with a brace of essential releases, not least of which are a couple of great albums by Nancy Priddy and Claudine Longet. Hello, Hello: The Best of Claudine Longet does exactly what it says on the sleeve, being a collection of the great French chanteuse’s A&M output. It’s filled with highlights, but how could I resist slipping her classic ‘White Horses’ onto my mix? Conjuring childhood memories of scratchy black and white TV in front of an open coal fire in our old council house in the midst of the bleak Ayshire countryside, this makes me want to crumble into fairy dust. I mean, forget Narnia: this is the sound of daydreamed magical promise. Of course Longet is one of those names that hipsters like Saint Etienne have long dropped as reference points, and didn’t Belle And Sebastian cover ‘White Horses’ at some point in the misty past? Certainly Ayrshire’s own Trashcan Sinatras recorded a version for their first album, so I guess I wasn’t the only one rapt in front of my TV in those forsaken lands. Nancy Priddy, meanwhile offers us up a track by track commentary in the sleevenotes to her reissued 1968 You’ve Come This Way Before set. Now Priddy was a member of the Bitter End Singers back in the early ’60s, the house band at the legendary Greenwich Village folk club that Felt nodded homage to on their Pictorial Jackson Review album (that sharp double edged set of Pic and Train Above The City really was a glorious homage to mythic New York). So there’s still a definite folk edge to this 1968 album, but it’s mixed up too with some more orchestrated pop and even a sweet soulful country edge. It’s beautifully psychedelic too, in the way that Buffalo Springfield could be psychedelic, and oddly enough this title track is about Stephen Stills, who Nancy had met and befriended when they were both working the Village scene. Produced by the legendary Phil Ramone, this is another Rev-Ola gem that demands your attention.
Ditto the eponymous Chesapeake Jukebox Band and Nick Garrie’s The Nightmare of J B Stanislas sets. The former is a glorious late blooming classic of American pop-psych from 1972 featuring singer/songwriter/producers Steve Sawyer, Rusty McFinn and the legendary Ron Frangipane (NY based producer who worked with the likes of the Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield, Townes Van Zandt, Monkees, Lennon, The Archies and a host of others). It sounds fabulous, and never more so than on this cut ‘Love’, which is five and a half minutes of psych-pop bliss, sounding for all the world like some blend of Surf’s Up and Wild Honey era Beach Boys. And you can’t get much finer than that. Nick Garrie’s set meanwhile is a naturally strange collection of poetic pysch-folk, recorded in the late ‘60s and originally released in 1970 by the French Disc AZ label (home to Brigitte Bardot). Garrie’s story is shrouded in mystery, which is apt, as his songs are similarly strange and cloaked in a orchestrated, soft-pop surrealism that seems to me to sit along a timeline that could stretch back to the likes of the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band and forward to The Clientele. And incidentally, don’t forget that Rev-Ola also recently re-issued Shaun Harris’ glorious eponymous 1973 set.

Finally on the re-issues front, it’s back to El with their release of Chad And Jeremy’s A Summer Song, which this 1965 stateside smash hit title track opens. Part of the early to mid ‘60s British Invasion, Chad And Jeremy’s gorgeous harmonies, accomplished folk-Pop orchestration and soft-psych stand up superbly alongside more universally lauded names like The Zombies. As perfect for kissing away the clouds of winter discontent as for soundtracking sweet Spring and Summer daydreams; you should set yourself up with this pronto.

There’s a kind of re-issue feel to the last two tracks on this month’s mix too. The Arrogants’ ‘It’s All A Dream’ comes from their budget priced, self released You’ve Always Known When Best To Say Goodbye swansong; a 23 track disc that compiles three imaginary EPs into one bumper package. With a feel of The Sundays permeating its soul, this track has the feel of a sprightly despite it all, world weary but smiling regardless optimism. As such it sets the tone for the rest of collection, throughout which the final, and already lost incarnation of the Californian band sound terrific, rollercoasting from preppy upbeat Pop to broody low key introspection. The CD comes with a companion DVD that compiles MP3s of a host of other material from compilations and assorted loose ends. It all makes for a comprehensive collection intended, as the sleeve notes say, to be dipped into rather than played all the way through in one sitting. Just the thing for mix tapes then.

Now as I said at the start of this mix ramble, sometimes I think there can be no finer sound than that of sweet Swedish Pop, and you don’t get much sweeter than the sound of Jens Lekman. So as we eagerly await newly recorded output there is at least the prospect of his Oh You’re So Silent Jens compilation sneaking into the record store racks on the 16th January. That most of his already sizeable and ardent fan base will have the majority of the tracks already in the form of the original EPs and singles from which the album draws matters not a jot (not to mention the fact that many of them will already have picked up copies of this compilation from the man himself at his live shows). Because this is a monstrously good record, filled with indecently special songs that demand obsessive playing. Certainly this ‘Jens Lekman's Farewell Song To Rocky Dennis’ track from the Rocky Dennis EP has been one of my most cherished records in the last year. With a simple piano line and sublime finger click percussion, it’s the perfect foundation for Jens’ glorious lyrics and achingly seductive voice. And maybe its those opening lines about September and going back to school that effortlessly sets me up, but when he sings “I wish I had a proper reason to cry. A reason not so abstract, more like a broken clause in a contract”, well, I’m about ready to collapse in a mess of feeling-sorry-for-myself bliss. And is it just me, but is the fact that he sings “now I don’t know who my friend is” in the singular (friend is as opposed to friends are) not just incredibly sad and sweet and special? Well, whatever, add another sixteen tracks, including two versions of the sublime ‘Maple Leaves’ with its timeless lines about Mark E Smith and mistaking ‘make believe’ for ‘maple leaves’, and you have an utterly essential collection that I insist sits atop your list of ‘must-buys’ for the New Year.

© 2005 Alistair Fitchett